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Why I Quit Reading Mainstream Comics

February 10, 2013 Leave a comment

When I originally started to do work on the predecessor to this current blog, I started with comics. Reviewing them and talking about them. The medium is one I love for what it can do. While I got more and more involved with comics themselves, I realized I was developing a strained relationship with a major component of the medium. Specifically, I have multiple issues with the major two companies (as well as, to a lesser extent, smaller companies), Marvel and DC. In the world of comics readers, there is a visible tension of preference between the two, and while certain points of the arguments are valid, most are moot as the companies are virtually the same. I’ve touched on this before, so if you want to see what I’ve to say about that, you can check it out here.

Since then, my apathy and general lack of care for these companies has grown. So much so, that I didn’t just quit reading titles from these companies, but I just didn’t think about them. Recently, I’ve tried to be reflexive on why I made this decision, and so I decided to share it. These are the reasons I ‘quit’ reading mainstream comics:

1) The Staleness of the IPs:

Out of all the reasons for me to stop reading comics, this one comes most from being a fan of the medium. In recent years, both Marvel and DC have tried to ‘reinvent’ themselves in new images. The biggest reason is that they needed to create new audiences. The recent successes of comic book film adaptations have also put pressure on the print publications of the titles. In this pseudo-progression of the images, both companies have attempted to try new things. However, what mostly comes out is a regurgitation of existing narratives and tropes. The existing IPs are running out of stories to tell and they need to totally overhauled in a way the industry may not be ready for.

2) Drowning in Cross-Over Events

I’ll be honest, I hate cross-over events. They’re pointless and only attempt to give a temporary change to the status quo, to only revert back to it in a later event. Marvel is especially guilty of this. The point being, regardless of the company, these events deter from the main narratives of existing characters and primarily exist to sell more comics. I believe, comic titles used to be stronger when they were at an individual level and other characters would have cameo appearances. While I appreciate the world-building components of the film franchises, where I think this type of story type has been working, in print it’s just awful, and at best, boring.

Another cross-over event? Don’t expect to see any quality writing for another year.

3) Creator’s Rights

Seriously, authors should own what they make. I’m not sure how to expand on this one really, because I think it’s clear. Characters and stories belong to individuals, not companies.

4) Depictions of Marginalized Groups

If I had to give one reason for giving up mainstream comics, this would be it. I’m completely aware that this is my own opinion, but, I feel like the mainstream comics of today are just as racist, sexist, homophobic, and discriminatory as they’ve been in the past. I’ve written before on the trend of capitalizing on LBGT movements in comics. That post contained a specific case study on my reasoning, but the general tone of it can be applied to most marginalized groups depicted in comics. For every Women in Refrigerators critique being made, there’s a case of it being done. Printed oppression in mainstream comics is cyclical. At the very best, we see progression, not because the publishers are seeking to be agents of change, but because they can capitalize upon social change movements being visible in the larger society.

 

Those are my core reasons for quitting mainstream comics. I understand there are deviations from these companies based on what I listed. For example, I think the death of Ultimate universe Peter Parker was for the better, as we can see a well-written biracial character in Miles Morales in Ultimate Comics Spider-Man. While I say I gave up on these publishers, I do still think there’s a place for their older works (as long as there’s acknowledgement of their own issues). There’s also some interesting work in the imprints (such as Vertigo), where creator rights have some presence.

But really, all of these issues are less present (but not absent) in the ‘more independent’ publishers. The characters and stories there are just as good, if not better, than what’s going on with Marvel and DC. I’m glad I moved on.

Daredevil vol. 2: A Review

June 3, 2012 Leave a comment

A year ago, I reviewed the first volume of a three-part set that compiled Frank Miller’s time as writer and artist on Daredevil in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Only some time ago did I get the chance to finally read the second installment in the set. This portion of the set is what most people look back to when they think of Frank Miller’s run of the character. It contains the rise of Elektra, the return of Bullseye, and the fight to the death between the two. But how was the rest of it?

Artistically speaking, Klaus Janson’s art is a good successor to Frank Miller’s penciling run. Miller gave up the role as artist when he took the writing role (this transition began in the first volume) and Janson took over in the role. The art is quite good, especially for the time, and holds up well. One of my favorite moments of this entire volume was a moment of silence in two panels. It was one of the rare occasions for that time where the creators are showing and not telling you about what’s happening. The art style in the whole volume is effective and I enjoyed it throughout.

It’s easy to see why Frank Miller’s run as author on Daredevil is so well remembered. For the time it was being written, and even still, the writing is fun to read and follow. Some of dialogue and narration has a foot still in the Silver Age style of writing comics, but it’s progressing towards how comics are written today. The whole build-up to the Elektra and Bullseye fight is done really well. And there is some amazingly written tensions between Daredevil and his antagonists (and sometimes allies). While there were some weak issues in the collection, the whole thing felt strong.

Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil is a gem in comics history. It’s definitely a space for strong art and writing, as well as putting time to make the character more interesting and reinventing tones for characters. If you’re  interested in the Daredevil character this volume is a must, but for those who casually interested in Marvel’s superheroes or past stories I’d also suggest this. With the man without fear it’s hard to go wrong.

Daredevil is owned by Marvel Comics. This volume is written by Frank Miller with art by Klaus Janson.

LBGT Issues in Mainstream Comics [Links]

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

After posting my most recent post on LBGT issues in mainstream comics I decided to create a space for collecting link related to the issue. I’ll post links I find over time as well as any that people send me (so please do!). I’ll post some brief description about it and the link itself.

Comics Alliance: “Betting Odds on DC’s New Gay Character”

This article is a good example of satire/parody of the typical musings in reaction to comic news announcements. These sort of articles, especially on topics like LBGT issues draw away from the importance of the issue, in that aspect, this particular article is terrific because it understands the importance and pokes fun more at those who muse on such things.

Comic Book Resource: “One Million Moms Target DC, Marvel”

This is more of a look at the reactionary voices towards the issue. While I personally believe it’s important to understand the feeling of oppression and means of resistance, it’s also important to understand reactionary voices (even if you don’t agree), because it’s simple ignorance if you don’t. It’s also a launch pad for larger critical thinking and study on the subject.

The Gutters: #297

Ryan Sohmer’s Gutters webcomic has always amused me in some of its playful criticisms of the comics industry. It has a consistency of tongue-in-cheek humor on most issues. However, when I read the descriptions below I find myself disagreeing more than agreeing. In this case I feel there is some misdirection. It feels more like the musing that the Comics Alliance poked fun at. Also, there’s a significant other comics on LBGT comics before. I’ll let it up to you to construe Sohmer’s criticisms.

 

MORE LINKS TO COME IN THE FUTURE. PLEASE SEND THEM TO ME.

 

Categories: comics, links collection Tags: , , , ,

A Comic Opinion: Depictions of the LBGT in Mainstream Comics

May 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Of late I’ve been really interested in representations, writings, and visual depictions of marginalized groups in art mediums, comics specifically. It’s a topic I feel like isn’t really properly addressed by the comics community on the scale that criticisms are made of other art mediums. It seems ironic that the news items most heavily picked up by mainstream news media regarding the mainstream comics community involves treatments of marginalized voices, but the comics community itself doesn’t spend nearly as much on the matter. Last years’ announcement of introducing Miles Morales, a black latino mix, as the new Ultimate Spider-Man received a good amount of attention. And yesterday, the announcement of the ‘gay marriage’ of Marvel’s Northstar character and his boyfriend, as well as DC’s announcement of one of the New 52 characters as ‘turning gay’ in the upcoming months also provided much discussion. With these recent announcements made by both Marvel and DC yesterday I felt that it was about time for me to start talking about it. In this case, giving a sense of where gay characters began, about depictions of homosexuality in mainstream comics (specifically Marvel and DC), why now, and what does this all mean.

The image accompanying Marvel’s announcement

Well, the easy part to answer is the emergence of LBGT characters within the main universes of DC and Marvel. If any individual is to be given credit for adding a homosexual character into mainstream comics it was writers Steve Englehart and Joe Staton with the introduction of Extraño in 1987 with the series’ Millennium and New Guardians. The character was not only foreign, but made very effeminate in what is a perceived stereotype of homosexuals in mass media. Those same series also contained a fellow character, Jet, who contracted HIV/AIDS. The point to make about these characters is less their inclusion, but the depictions of homosexuality. Both Extraño and Jet were stereotypes of homosexuals in the late 1980s. The stereotyping of the former is one that persists in mass media today with such shows as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Whereas, the characterization of Jet is important to understand as its a byproduct of conceptions and fears of HIV/AIDS and the homosexual community (in this case spreading rapidly via cuts). As such the depictions of Extraño and Jet can be largely be seen in the same line as the depictions in other media formats. Since then, DC has largely put homosexual characters into supporting roles. This has changed only slightly, with characters such as Renee Montoya taking a central role in Gotham Central and 52. It’s only with the recent announcement of a main character of the DC 52 becoming gay has the company given significant attention to the issue.

Extrano, DC’s first and most flamboyant gay character

Marvel, on the other hand, has a far more complex history to it. In the 1980s, Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter forbid any homosexual characters in the Marvel universe. In the ’90s this was slightly lessened allowing for LBGT characters, but comics had to have an ‘Adults Only’ label printed on them that heavily featured these characters. Even in these series there wasn’t much intimacy between homosexual characters and the rating label largely stemmed from the fact that these characters had a separate sexual orientation than the content of the comics. While DC’s depictions were originally based off stereotyping of homosexuals, Marvel’s publishing (or lack thereof) was largely reactionary. While Shooter’s legacy was controversial in Marvel itself, his attitudes to homosexuals didn’t define the general Marvel policies, especially given the adult ratings in the ’90s. It was around this period that Marvel began to introduce openly gay characters into their universe, often taking supportive, yet prominent roles in team serials. In George Haggerty’s Encyclopedia of Gay Histories and Cultures he states that Marvel’s inclusion of homosexuals, when compared to DC, was “less prolific but more deliberate.” This can be evidenced in the recent announcement of Northstar’s ‘gay marriage.’

But why is this happening now?

Well, the most obvious answer to that is that the issue of gay marriage has entered public conscious at a massive level in the past few years. Regardless, of your standing in a political spectrum and your level of access to current dissemination of news media, you’ve probably heard of trends in gay marriage politics, as well as likely carrying your own opinion on the matter. The reason Marvel is doing this now is because the issue is at its height of consciousness and with President Obama’s approval of it, has an easier time of accessing the comic purchasing demographic (as well as a few extra readers interested in the subject). The other part of this announcement is the relative obscurity of the character. Northstar is a character small enough that he isn’t known by mainstream society and could be missed by comic readers who don’t happen to read the series’ he is in. His marriage to his boyfriend carries little weight in the whole of the Marvel universe. But, it carries symbolism.

Dan DiDio and DC: Not sure where to go on the issue

While the Marvel announcement is definitely provoking and interesting in regards to the heavy amount of news attention it has received, DC’s announcement of a new ‘gay’ character that was previously ‘straight’ is the real case that needs to be examined. DC has yet to reveal which particular character is ‘turning gay,’ though, that matters little in the overall meaning of it all. Last year, Dan DiDio stated in an interview with the LBGT magazine The Advocate:

“One of the things we’re very focused on doing for these types of stories is rather than [change an existing] character, we want to make sure that this is the basis of who that character is right from the start. So if we’re going to introduce a gay character in Teen Titans, we want to make it a new character and make sure that is an iatrical [integral was probably the word intended here] part of who he is, or who she is, right from the start so we can really lean and grow with her or him.”

Of course, the recent decision by DiDio and DC is probably a mixture of influences from the Marvel announcement, changes of LBGT issues in the political atmosphere, and the growing concern of diversity (of race, gender, and now sexual orientations) in mainstream comics today. But, is it alright to have a character ‘turn gay?’ By this I mean, follow DiDio’s rhetoric and try to avoid and develop a LBGT character from their creation rather than ‘making them homosexual.’ Yes, it’s possible for there to be an explanation of changes in orientation (a vast majority of the LBGT supporting characters are bisexual, a result of possible orientation retconning), but it doesn’t give much attention to the community itself.

Renee Montoya is probably my favorite depiction of LBGTs in mainstream comics

What mainstream comics need is a character who is intended to be homosexual or transgender, and potentially openly so. It’s quite possible to also make this a part of the development of the character amongst their relationships (mostly non-romantic) and their fellow heroes. Renee Montoya remains my favorite depiction of an LBGT character in mainstream comics as her orientation is involved in thoughtful ways in the main narrative and is explored via the relationship with her family. There is a reason why most of Marvel’s homosexual characters are mutants, because it gives them more than one level of discrimination to deal with.

Complexity of sexuality and the importance of orientation differences is important to convey to readers to create a healthy comic readership. While these new announcements have the potential to grow into something else, they are most likely receiving mass attention because of other debates regarding LBGT issues in contemporary society. Comics have the potential to become a vehicle in aiding the transition from an era of stereotyping and reactionism (as seen in the ’80s and ’90s) to a dynamic system of orientations.

 

[Note: This is my first time discussing issues in the LBGT community and marginalized images in comics. Please give me feedback on approach for possible future discussions. I would to hear/read it.]

A Comic Opinion: The Marvel vs. DC Debate

September 23, 2011 1 comment

Any comic fan has more than likely at one point in their comic fandom been involved in the debate on which is the better company, Marvel or DC. I’ve participated in this argument on several different occasions myself. But in the most recent instance of this debate that I personally experienced I noticed many of the paradoxes and weak points at the debate’s core. What do I mean by this? Well…

…One must look at what characterizes the debate itself. Typically the primary argument in the debate tends to be the preferences in the superheroes belonging to one particular franchise. It’s interesting to see that the more hard-lined debaters argue which company is better, with an admiration of one company’s heroes and ignoring the other. By this logic, one can be only a Justice League fan, but not an Avengers fan. The same applies with the X-Men and the Teen Titans (as explained by their parallel success in the 1980s). People who take a softer line in this debate can find characters they like in both companies, but tend to give their allegiances to one company over another. The latter of which being closer to a dissolution of the debate. ‘The final stage’ being one who can consciously find enjoyment with material from both companies.

As a comic reader I’ve seen myself go through all three ‘stages’ (in the order I mentioned them), and when I self-reflect about my experience in these varying ideologies I find that the debate isn’t filled that much by a simple preference in characters. Rather, there are two primary factors I believe contribute to the overall debate. The first being how someone is introduced into comic books. For the average comic fan their introduction is typically limited to an exposure to one particular comic company, be it from picking up an issue in the store or watching an animated series (comic adapted movies are adding more to this, especially for older readers just starting to read comics). After that initial exposure most readers tend to stick with that one company that they started with. That company serves as a sort of’ comic nostalgia,’ being responsible in some fashion for piquing the interest in comics. When I reflect upon myself I find this to be true, as I had my first exposure to a particular comic company and their characters, and remained invested in them solely until only the past few years. This primary introduction to comics is important for establishing the bias of most readers. As for those who had a double exposure and read both Marvel and DC, well, good for you.

While the previous point is somewhat of a gimme, my second reason (a hypothesis of mine) is not so much. I consider that most criticisms in the Marvel/DC argument are aimed at the competing company practices and how stories tend to pan out. Most individuals making these criticisms are the hard-liners primarily sticking to their respective company only, or, have that comic nostalgia for a particular company. The biggest irony of this is that both companies essentially struggle with the same issues. They both have convoluted storylines, an overbearing love of a ‘status quo,’ editorial conflicts, and mixed production values. You can find all of these issues in both companies. For those who like to adhere to a single company I feel they’re often too blinded by this dedication to a company to see the same flaws that they accuse the other company for. As someone who is slowly distancing themselves to the single company dedication I can see this more clearly, and while I do love material from both companies, I feel there are overall infrastructure issues that plague all the larger comic companies. This is the point more than anything else that makes me feel like the whole Marvel vs. DC debate is redundant. Both companies produce quality works and have good characters, but they suffer from nearly the same issues (I’ll probably touch on these issues in a later article).

As time goes on I feel like there’s an increasing number of exceptions towards the debate. Mostly I see this as a byproduct of the many quality comic book movies being made from Marvel and DC characters. And while one company has a clear edge in the overall production of their films (not naming names) there is a general interest of fans from both parties on the films of characters for the company. It’s a sign of hope for a dissolution of the Marvel vs. DC debate. However, I feel the ‘What company is better?’ debate will be a matter of contention as long as both companies continue publishing material.

This has been a comic opinion. Until next.

Categories: comics Tags: , , , ,

‘Daredevil #1’: a comic review

July 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I knew about the relaunch of the Daredevil franchise for some time now. While it hadn’t been discontinued per se, the quality of the series has diminished significantly since the writing runs of Brian Michael Bendis and Ed Brubaker (which I have yet to read). Having liked so far of what I’ve read of Daredevil material I decided to give this a shot.

Writing:

This issue was more than anything else more fun than interesting. Not to say that it wasn’t interesting, since the last page or two sets up interest for subsequent volumes. The narrative is well paced. It also sets up this volume of Daredevil as friendly to new readers who don’t know about the character’s continuity. As someone with some Daredevil familiarity, but also out of the loop for the character recently this issue worked for both ends.

Art:

While Mark Waid was understandable choice for writing role, I was bit surprised with the choice of Paolo Rivera as artist. The choice of Rivera is good because his style of art lends itself well towards the narrative. Rivera’s style for depicting Daredevil’s radar is also one of the better I’ve seen for the character. I suspect that a lot of fun feeling of the narrative comes from the warm colors used by the colorist Javier Rodriguez. The art is very friendly to both a new reader of the character and the new direction of the franchise.

Final Opinion:

Based on the first issue of this run for Daredevil I suspect good things for the character. While it’s certainly not the same as the crime drama focus of the Bendis/Brubaker era there is still a lot of potential. The first issue is a fun read, that ends on an interesting note. The art is friendly for new readers, and also signals the emphasis of a new direction for the character. There’s little to go wrong with Daredevil #1.

Daredevil is owned by Marvel Comics. Daredevil #1 is written by Mark Waid, with art by Paolo Rivera.

Categories: comics, review Tags: , , ,

‘X-Factor: The Longest Night’: a comic review

July 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I realized it’s been a while since I reviewed a Marvel work, so I decided to take a suggestion for a series. Based on the title of X-Factor I was expecting another superhero team comic. I’m glad I was wrong. They’re still a team of superpowered mutants, however the make up private investigation group. It may sound cheesy at first, but it plays off well, considering that most of their investigations have to do with mutants and the after effects of the House of M event, which left most mutants without their powers. With that explained, let’s look at the first volume of the run by writer Peter David, The Longest Night.

Writer:

David does a good job at setting the atmosphere for the story outside of the typical superhero team story. Most of the characters are fleshed out, and those that aren’t are foreshadowed some development in later installments. Though I’m unfamiliar with most of the cast the story arcs pan out well and the developments are interesting. The use of the series as a follow-up to House of M is good, considering that I’m not a fan of cross-over events. In terms of narrative The Longest Night has its strengths in the characterizations and the atmosphere it creates.

Art:

The atmosphere of the narrative of the comic is aided a lot by the art of Ryan Sook and Dennis Calero. The art style reminds me a lot of Micahel Lark, but without the grit. The color choice reflects the thick atmosphere of the work. For the most part they’re dim, but clean. The colors and penciling help reinforce the narrative. It also helps set apart this X-Factor for traditional superhero fare but its stylistic choices. Sook and Calero do a good job of adding to the narrative with their art.

Final Opinion:

I was surprised at how much I liked The Longest Night. Peter David does a good job at setting apart the series from other superhero team storytelling. While it’s still tied into the larger Marvel universe, David is given enough freedom to use some story plots in the first volume. Artists Ryan Sook and Dennis Caleo add a lot to the atmosphere and stylistic direction of the series. I’m actually interested in reading more of the series someday. If you like deviations from typical superhero team stories, or the X-universe, X-Factor is worth a shot. I liked it, and, you know, I know stuff.

X-Factor is owned by Marvel. The Longest Night is written by Peter David, with art by Ryan Sook and Dennis Calero.

Categories: comics, review Tags: , , ,